A huge news story breaks and every member of the UK’s press descends upon the scene. It’s chaotic, exciting, and sometimes dangerous. And right in the middle of it is an unlikely character: A Vodafone network engineer.
When the nation’s Clark Kents and Lois Lanes all converge to cover the story, our network often carries their messages, pictures and even live broadcasts. And that’s on top of phone calls, texts and data from local residents and, sometimes, emergency services too.
Combined, those three groups can put strain on our base stations, so to make sure nobody’s left unable to send a picture message to their mates, phone for emergency assistance, or report back to the news desk, the Vodafone Rapid Response team swings into action.
From flower shows to music festivals and country fairs. And those are just the ones we can plan for.
The Rapid Response team is based all over the UK, ready to drop everything and get to the latest scene of breaking news, fast.
Often, the initial role of the team is to ensure there is coverage for the emergency services that arrive there first, for whom communication is vital. Most of the blue light services use our network, so it’s vital they have access to good lines of communication.
We’ve dispatched the Rapid Response team to floods, crime scenes and rescue efforts in the past, as well as more cheerful events like music festivals, royal weddings and New Year celebrations.
“They’ll go out for the diamond jubilee,” says Bob Dennis, our Service Improvement Manager. “There’s a mixed list of special events, from flower shows to music festivals and country fairs. But of course, those are just the ones we can plan for.”
Once on the scene, our teams set up their physical trailer. It has a telescopic mast and a microwave dish on top, so it’s simply a case of rigging the mast up and directing the dish towards the nearest base station to tap into the network and provide extra local coverage.
But that’s the easy part. The challenge for the Rapid Response team is that they don’t often know what they’re going to find when they arrive on location, and they need to think on their feet, coming up with increasingly inventive ways to solve problems.
“A frequent concern is how to power the mast, as not every site has room for a generator,” says Bob. “And sometimes, they‘re just too noisy to be used in residential areas.”
Being mindful of local residents is top of Bob’s list when one of our mobile base stations rolls into a suburban area. When we set up masts to cope with the media arriving at the village of Bucklebury to cover Kate Middleton’s hometown celebrations for the Royal Wedding last summer, one of our aims wasn’t just to provide a strong network, but to get out of the way as soon as possible after the job was done!
Keep your eyes peeled and if you see one of our masts, why not give it a nod. Send us a photo, and tell us how it was helping keep people connected at the scene.